Could a 'Reckless' Miscarriage be Murder? Utah Bill Might Make it So
Filed under: In The News
If you're in a motorcycle accident while you're pregnant, should you be charged with murder if you have a miscarriage?
Riding a motorcycle could be riskier than driving your father's Oldsmobile. But are you a murderer?
That's the center of a controversy surrounding a bill passed by the Utah Legislature that outlaws "reckless" actions that put unborn children at risk. The bill is an attempt to protect the unborn without directly banning abortions by authorized physicians.
Critics, however, warn of unintended consequences."One of the biggest problems of the law is that it's criminalizing women's behavior during pregnancy," Jordan Goldberg, state advocacy counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York, tells ABC News.
"When you start down that path, it's very difficult to draw the line."
ABC News reports the bill was inspired when a 17-year-old girl paid someone to beat her last year, hoping to cause a late-term abortion.
But the bill is vague about what constitutes "reckless" behavior. Critics charge it could include everything from staying with a partner with a history of physical abuse, to not wearing a seat belt.
"This could be misconstrued or construed too aggressively," Democratic Utah state Sen. Ross Romero tells ABC News. "We all make bad choices in our lives, and most of them don't come with criminal burdens. This one does, or may, I should say."
The bill passed both the Utah House and Senate. It's now sitting on Gov. Gary Herbert's desk. According to ABC News, Herbert has not indicated whether he will sign or veto the bill. However, supporters of the bill tell the network they expect him to approve it.
If he does nothing by March 8, the measure automatically becomes law.
The teenager in last year's case eventually gave birth to a healthy baby. A judge absolved her of any criminal liability because he said her actions were protected by the state's definition of abortion.
"It revealed a weakness and a loophole in our law, which we did not know was there," Carl Wimmer, the Republican state representative who introduced the bill, tells ABC News. "We thought all along, we have a criminal homicide law that deals with unborn children, and we thought that law was adequate, and we found out that it was wanting."
That's because, as in many other states, Utah's law punishes the woman's attacker, not the woman herself. Aaron Harrison, the 21-year-old man who did the actual beating last year, pleaded guilty to second-degree felony attempted murder.
He was sentenced to up to five years in prison, according to ABC News [but could serve up to 20 for unrelated felonies].
Wimmer denies charges that the bill might end up putting women in jail for staying with an abusive partner.
"It would never happen," he tells ABC News, adding the state's definition of "reckless" would protect women. "Reckless is behavior where you know that a threat exists, where you know that there's a risk, an unjustifiable risk," he tells the network.
By that definition, Romero tells ABC News, the bill is what's reckless.
What's more, he adds, legislators fail to address the mental and emotional issues and other circumstances that would lead a young girl to pay someone to savagely beat her.
"This doesn't really get to what's going on," he tells ABC News. "Obviously the problem with that situation -- and with situations like that -- is the person needs counseling, needs intervention much more than they need incarceration or criminal penalties."
Related: DIY Teen Abortions: Fact or False Hysteria?
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